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Baby in the City

Urban Parenting in Toronto

by Megan Kinch


I wanted to write about my urban life, which has continued with my baby. I find that there's an assumption, both from non-parents and from parents, that parenting means a suburban lifestyle and thought I'd write something about tips for urban parents and babies, and what parenting in the city means to me. I already see it shaping my baby at 20 months (that's one and a half for people who aren't currently parenting babies), she already says words like "city" as well as "street" for streetcar and "choo choo" for subway (she loves all forms of public transit).

I live in Toronto, in an area where subway/streetcar, bus, highway and bike transit all make sense, it's a 'suburb' built in the 50s with a fairly urban character. Living where I live, right by a subway station, I spend most of my time of out area though. It's not where I would choose to live if I had a choice so I spend more time hanging out in Kensington, the Annex, Cabbagetown, and Queen West sometimes. I come from a weird perspective as someone who is a leftist grad student cultural worker sometimes, and also a working class manual labourer other times. I have an involved partner who does a lot of the childcare as well, but he was working overtime for most of the first year so I spent a lot of time by myself. He's been doing more of the childcare this summer as I've been going to school and working so we've sort of switched.

I hate being stuck at home, so I do a lot of my parenting on the move. Also, our apartment kind of sucks for various reasons. The baby loves being out and travelling. It's interesting for her so in a lot of ways she's easier to care for. She loves all modes of transit that aren't the car and she's warming up on the car thing. (We don't really like having a car but need one for work as we often work crappy working class jobs where there is no transit). A metropass has been a lifesaver, especially given that I don't have friends living in my immediate area. Here some of the tools that I use (you may have a different toolkit depending on your particular need)

Diaper Changing

Pretty much nowhere I hang out has dedicated baby changing facilities.  So I make do. In the summer this is easy, I just change her in a park on the grass. In the winter it's a bit more difficult. Bathrooms in downtown Toronto are often downstairs with a cement hallway and very small bathrooms. So I usually change her in the hallway. When she was an infant I had a portable change pad that was both waterproof and absorbent, so I would usually change her in the bathroom hallway if there wasn't room in the bathroom itself/the floor was gross. Now that she's big we have perfected the stand-up baby change so she stands in the hallway while we change her diapers. This works so well that I don't use the change table even if there is one.

Babywearing

Babywearing has been a real life saver for me. It was quite difficult to figure out babywearing, especially as someone who was really broke, but I saved money but not buying a stroller. Especially as someone with back problems, I need somethings that super supportive. I use wraps (difficult to learn but very supportive) and a mei tai (an asian style baby carrier), usually carrying her on her back after she hit the 6 month mark. This has actually helped my back heal as I've got stronger as she got bigger.  Babywearing has been great because the closest subway station to me doesn't have an elevator and if had to use accessible transit services it would add up to an hour to my round trips. I can squeeze in on crowded streetcars without taking up too much room, I can browse in small stores, I can go up and down stairs, I can go to things like Pedestrian Sunday in the market or Nuit Blanche. It's difficult to master, but not necessarily harder than figuring out how to use a carseat or change a diaper. It's a baby related skill.

Some Places Hate Babies/Some Places Love Babies

There are whole areas of the city that I don't go to. For example, the Annex is bad, but I go there anyway because I have meetings there and lots of stuff is there. Areas or businesses that are generally tolerant of weirdness, or have a more immigrant character (like, not into Anglo-capitalist culture of hating babies) tend to be much better. Places that tolerate dogs tied to a patio or bikes chained to fence are more likely to also tolerate or even welcome a baby. I make things easier for myself by cleaning up after the baby if she makes a mess, and if she is really crying we leave and go for a walk. I also don't necessarily need a high chair as I use a scarf to tie her to a regular chair, a trick I learned from my grandma. Now that she's a toddler I'll order her an inch of chocolate milk in a paper cup for her to drink while I drink my coffee, so she thinks she's having coffee too.

Baby Friendly Adult Events

 

I don't really want to go to events geared to babies. I want to go to adult events and locations that feed my adult intellectual and social needs. So I've found a couple cafes that are adult oriented where I can have a conversation, but are also friendly to the baby. I even found a local restaurant/bar that because it's a restaurant the baby can be at but I can still meet up with my friends for a beer. I like to go to parties at people's houses because the baby can't be at licenced events. And the baby has been building relationships with my adult friends, she recognizes them and is happy to see them. (If they are parents and have kids of their own, obviously from her perspective thats even better). My favourite is when at certain events my adult friends will pick up the baby and hang out with her a bit, or chase her down the hallway for five minutes so I can finish a conversation. This kind of very casual help with childcare is really awesome and often I prefer it to something really formal where someone takes care of the baby in another room, as we then miss each other (especially if I'm away from her all day).

Pack a Small Bag

We fit everything we need in a fairly small messenger bag, instead of a diaper bag. We fit in some diapers, a change of clothes for emergencies, baby wipes, a baby cup with water, a small toy, a hat, sometime a book or a computer for us big people, and a snack. This is part of what makes mobility easier is really paring down the amount of stuff to a minimum.

Parks

I think way more about parks now. Especially with a toddler. This deserves a whole other blog, but parks are now of upmost importance. Not that they weren't important before, but now they are even more so. Some parks are great for certain age groups but not for others, and some parks just generally are crappy. It takes experimentation.

Find the Right Baby Groups/Services for You

 

There's a whole network of Early Years Centres in Ontario that are publicly funded drop in centres. The trick is to find the one that's right for you, as I found some of them too institutional. And I can't afford the private baby/mom classes because not only are they too expensive but also I find there is a huge class (and even age) divide between me and the other moms. I had problems with the main baby wearing group in Toronto based on class issues, but I found another group that was more accepting that I was able to get lots of tips from. The Children's Storefront, a drop-in centre on Ossington and Bloor, is really my style with a mixed-class group and really tries to foster parents hanging out and socializing as well as kids. It's also a people-run organization rather than just being a govt funded drop in centre (although it is that as well) and has real drop in hours rather than a ton of programming. It's not super close to where I live though, but for me it's worth it for a centre that's a better fit. This is more important in the winter when parks aren't an option.

Biking

 

We are just starting to get more into biking. It's difficult to bike with a smaller infant (I think you basically need one of those 'bafket' front bike baskets). At one year we got a bike helmet and a bike seat that goes on the front of the bike (like the ones in these videos). Biking is basically the baby's favourite thing. We also have a nice basket for carrying groceries on the back as well so it's great for short trips in the area. I was so happy to get back on a bike, and the baby loves it too. Instead of getting her a tiny bike to ride around the backyard, we now have a device that works for both recreation and transportation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Megan Kinch writes more about parenting and other stuff (like social movements and activism) at megantron.blogspot.ca


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
Member since Décembre 2009

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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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